(photo credit: REUTERS)
LONDON – After MPs concluded their third Commons debate within a year in effect attacking the shechita and halal methods of animal slaughter, an organization which the Jewish community established to protect the practice accused the British Veterinary Association, one of the groups behind the campaign, of being “negligent, obsessed and politically driven.”
Moves against shechita are “gathering momentum,” Shechita UK warned the Jewish community.
Although Monday evening’s three-hour debate was advisory in nature, and did not conclude with a vote, several MPs favoring changes to slaughter regulations demanded that either pre-slaughter stunning or post-cut stunning be introduced on animal welfare grounds. However other participant MPs made clear that any change in existing regulations would hurt both the Jewish and Muslim communities.
The debate was triggered by a public petition, under a recently introduced procedure designed to “empower” sections of the population. Having exceeded the 100,000-signatures threshold, the BVA, which initiated the petition, was automatically granted a parliamentary debate calling for stunning to be made mandatory.
Under existing UK slaughter regulations, exemptions have been granted to the Jewish and Muslim communities, to allow for animals to be killed according to their religious laws provided it is to be consumed by the respective communities.
Shimon Cohen, Shechita UK’s director, said that because it took the BVA almost a year to secure the 100,000 signatures, perhaps it had shown that “the media storm around religious slaughter was not necessarily reflected by the public interest.” He went on to accuse the BVA of being “negligent and obsessed,” adding that its campaign was clearly politically driven and that after two religious slaughter debates in a year, for animal welfare groups to push for a third was “wildeyed and obsessive.”
Several MPs pointed to a counter petition which had been jointly promoted by Manchester-based Jewish and Muslim communities asking to safeguard religious slaughter and had secured well over 128,000 names, all of which had been gathered in the last fortnight.
Both the Conservative-led administration and the main opposition Labor Party have made repeatedly clear they have no intention of abolishing the existing exemptions.
During the debate, however, party spokesmen said they favored calls for all animals to be stunned prior to slaughter.
Also reflected during the debate were the increasing calls for labeling regulations to show the way religiously slaughtered animals have been killed. A move along those lines appears likely to emerge from the EU in the next few months, and could hurt the Jewish community as those parts of the animal not consumed by Jews under the laws of kashrut are currently sold on the open market, unlabeled, thus subsidizing the costs of shechita. Were such cuts of meat labeled as “not stunned,” the demand for those parts would probably fall substantially, forcing up the price of kosher meat.
George Eustice of the Conservative Party, parliamentary under secretary of state for farming, food and the marine environment, told MPs that the kosher market represented a very small proportion of the animal slaughter industry, but, he observed, 73 percent of halal meat is derived from animals which have been stunned before being killed, a factor he suggested needed further examination when considering exemptions from stunning.
And he added while he accepted both Jews and Muslims have concerns over avoiding animal suffering, there was scientific evidence to suggest that a cut was not the equivalent to a stun, i.e. a cut inflicts pain.
Based on the experience of some other countries, it might be possible to accommodate the beliefs of Jews and Muslims by securing acceptance of a post-cut stun, he said, but he emphasized “the government had no plans at all to ban religious slaughter.”